How Does Nursing Continuing Education Work?

Kathy Quan RN BSN PHN - 03/17/19

In the nursing profession you will never stop learning. Some professions train you for the job and that’s it, anything else is learned through on the job experience. Nursing is never going to be like that. Medicine itself is not an exact science and new discoveries are made every day. The nurse’s role is to educate patients about these new developments as they pertain to the individual patient and to implement all updated skills into their repertoire. 

Nurses are the patient educator

Most nurses became nurses to help people. One of the best ways nurses help people is by educating them on how to improve their health status in ways that patients can best understand. This includes explaining a disease process and prognosis, treatments, life style changes necessary and medications. It also includes helping them to understand ways to prevent complications and to manage symptoms. In today’s healthcare practice, physicians do not have the time to do this and it falls to the nurse.

Nurses will tell countless stories about friends and family and friends of friends and family who contact them all the time for information to better understand and manage their illness and injuries. Most doctors no longer employ nurses in their offices, and this leaves a gap in the education process. Providing a patient with something to read is one of the least effective means of patient education primarily due to healthcare illiteracy; meaning patients don’t usually understand what they don’t know to begin with, and don’t know how or where to get the help and information they need.

So how do nurses keep up to date?

Many times, nurses will learn new information and techniques or technology on-the-job from physicians who like to educate and share, pharmacists who enlighten nurses, and even from patients who have used new methods, medications and technology. This sparks an interest and nurses can utilize the internet and medical libraries to fill in the gaps.

Hospitals, home health and hospice agencies, and other facilities will often provide in-services or workshops relevant to their staff to present new information and train nurses in new methods and techniques. Or they may pay for employees to attend webinars and workshops to learn and report back to share their new knowledge.

The internet is full of blogs and websites from nurses sharing information with nurses. Vendor websites can also present valuable information. You-tube has an abundance of videos demonstrating new technology and techniques.

Where does continuing education begin?

Continuing education courses for nurses provide a wide variety of relevant updates and new information for nurses. Technology is constantly advancing and new treatments and even cures are being developed all the time. Treatment changes as advances in medications and treatment modalities are made. Prevention of complication and managing symptoms evolves all the time. CEU courses for nurses capitalize on new information to share with nurses.

 Trends in society that affect nurses and patients such as the opioid addiction crisis, abuse and neglect issues, workplace violence, human trafficking, as well as dealing with the resurgence of diseases from “anti-vaxxers’” effects are all focuses for nurses continuing education. As new trends come into focus, ceus will be developed to meet the need. Some of these areas are the focus of mandatory ceus in some states. For instance, Florida requires 2 ceus in preventing medical errors, and recently started requiring 2 ceus in recognizing impairment in the workplace. They also require CEUs in how Florida state laws impact nurses and a course in HIV. Other state requires courses on infection control or dealing with workplace violence.

Confidentiality is another trend in the news lately as a multitude of nurses were fired recently from a facility for breaching confidentiality where a celebrity was treated. There is no defense for this. Nurses are expected to understand confidentiality and to adhere to the regulations and laws such as HIPAA. Looking up information on anyone not under your direct care is a breach and carries consequences. Nurses must be aware of all matters that affect their profession and patient care. Continuing education provides a means of keeping up to date on everything nursing.

Nurse continuing their education by taking nursing related courses from a college or university can apply these courses, if accredited, to their ceu requirements. Check with the State Board of Nursing to ensure the courses count.

When do nurses need to complete CEUs?

Continuing education units for nurses are required by 39 states, all US Territories, and Washington DC for license renewal that ranges typically from every 2-4 years. This number changes as states reconsider the importance of continuing education as well as continued employment in the field. Nurses have to complete the required number of CEUs (which again varies from state to state) by the end of their licensure period.

The ceus taken and passed need to be submitted to the State BON along with their application for license renewal. Usually the information submitted includes the course title, provider number and the number of ceus granted. This is all available on the certificate issued by the provider. Most states also require the nurse to maintain records of the CEUs for a designated period of time in case of audit.

Once the license renewal is effective, the nurse can begin taking courses that will count towards the next renewal. Unfortunately, CEUs are not carried over from one license period to another.